Could the next Steve Jobs or Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, live in Prince George's County?
There's one answer to that question: absolutely.
The 100 Black Men of Prince George's County, a non-profit that mentors youth throughout the community, launched a program called Silicon 100 almost one year ago. Since then, close to 25 students have started learning how to code apps and websites. They are also learning about entrepreneurship through the organization’s 100 Pathways to Success program, sponsored by Wells Fargo.
Matthew Phuse,17, is one the students in the tech-based program. His love for technology started in the seventh grade when he fixed a broken iPod. He has no doubt about what he wants to do with his future.
"What I want to do when I graduate is open up two businesses: one is repairing electronics, two is making electronics that compete with companies like Apple and Google."
Phuse is a senior at Fairmont Heights High School, which had the highest increase in graduation rates in Maryland during the 2015-2016 school year, according to Principal Torrie Walker. Phuse is a part of the school’s IT program and Silicon 100. Without both, he said he was not sure how attainable his dream would be.
Chike Aguh is a mentor and coordinator of Silicon 100. He explained how the program works.
"We're doing over 60 hours of coding instruction in terms of website development, game animation and user experience," Aguh said. " Who knows what our students are going to create, but our hope is that they're going to create it right here in Prince George's County."
The program is 16 weeks long. There's a total of 80 hours of instruction on technology and entrepreneurship. Aguh said the only requirement is commitment. The tools are provided. Students in the program get a laptop, a year of free Wi-Fi and a day on the job at a local tech company.
"There are people who could create the next Apple, that next Facebook that we're never going to know if we don't give them an opportunity," Aguh said.
"There's a tremendous gap, in terms of females being in the IT industry," said Dr. Charles Wheeler, executive vice president of the 100 Black Men of Prince George's County Chapter. "There's also a tremendous gap in opportunity, so when we talk about companies like Google coming here to the county, we can make that a reality."
"It's been a great experience and it shows me that it's actually possible in PG County," Phuse said.
"I've learned a lot about myself," said 16-year-old Shayla Louis-Henery. "Usually, I'm the one to quit things when it's hard, but the people they have tell us it's not good to give up, you always have to push yourself to do better."
The team hopes to expand Silicon 100 to include more than 100 students each year for the next five years. If you're interested in becoming a mentor or helping out with the mission of the program, contact the organization through their website.
You can also purchase tickets there for its annual community brunch on Saturday, April 15 from 10a.m. to 1p.m. at MGM National Harbor. It will be hosted by actor and philanthropist Lamman Rucker.
All proceeds will help fund the organization's programs and scholarships.